Going above and beyond at the Witer Learning Resource Centre

Friday, November 12, 2021

In a pre-pandemic world, the School of Optometry & Vision Science’s Witer Learning Resource Centre (WLRC) was open for students whenever they needed it. Students regularly would come and go – freely using the carols for quiet study time, checking out publications, or gathering for study groups to prep for their exams.

But when COVID-19 hit, there was a sudden need for additional layers of safety pre-cautions that would change how freely students would be able to interact with the WLRC.

Pivoting quickly, the WLRC team (Mirka Freemantle, Peter Stirling, Janine Solis Solis and Brie McConnell) worked together to ensure access could continue for Optometry students - including implementing an electronic sign-up system to manage capacity requirements in all spaces, digitizing the library's collection, executing regular sanitation protocols and coordinating resource requests.

Thanks to the hard work of the WLRC’s tight-knit team, students and alumni have continued to maintain critical access to the resources they need to succeed in their studies and across the profession.

Facilitating access to critical hands-on learning

For UWOVS, one of the biggest elements of complexity during COVID-19 has been facilitating how students would be able to access pre-clinic time – where they practice the essential skills they need to apply in clinical training - while maintaining social distancing rules.

“Our pre-clinic functions at full capacity, nearly 100% of the time,” says Mirka Freemantle, the WLRC’s Circulation Supervisor. “Students tell us all the time how important it is to have an opportunity to practice their skills - we knew it would be a priority to implement a new electronic sign-up system to balance access with capacity requirements.” The WLRC team also shifted their hours, to ensure greater access for students in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. 

To minimize the number of people involved in pre-clinic, the School’s post-graduate optometric residents stepped into supervisory roles, replacing the previous system of rotating fourth-year teaching assistants. Freemantle says this change has been very welcome for both students and residents, providing students and residents with consistency and opportunities to develop stronger mentor-mentee relationships with one another.

“Working with the WLRC team [to coordinate pre-clinic access] during the last eighteen months has been a dream,” says Dr. Lisa Christian, Associate Director of Clinical Education. “They've really been at the forefront of making it possible for our students to have quality practice time to advance their clinical skills.”

A resource centre for life

Even before the pandemic, the WLRC has always functioned more as a resource centre in addition to its function as a library – including providing access to popular vision-specific electronic subscription resources for our alumni like RxTx, Wills Eye Manual, Manual of Ocular Diagnosis and Therapy, and the American Academy of Optometry’s official journal Optometry & Vision Science. “Being a resource centre gives us the flexibility to be able to fill a broader scope of roles at the School and for our alumni,” says Freemantle. “We’re always happy to help facilitate what’s needed.”

While the operational challenges presented by the pandemic were numerous, Freemantle says the extra work put in by the whole WLRC team to help students with their studies has been worth it. “When you see how desperate the students are to practice, and how much they need that time, it feels good to be able to facilitate that so that they can get most of the absolute most from their time here at Waterloo.”

“Seeing our students are really thriving thanks to the resources we can provide – that’s the biggest indication that our team has managed a job well done.”